Stolen, enslaved, sold, spoiled, or saved? Sahelian sex trafficking as militarised experience.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Politics


I will use a feminist lens to critically analyse French intervention in the Sahel, assessing the gendered formation and legacy of French military masculinities and their impact on the nature and composition of the G5 Sahel Force. Active since 1986, France's Chadian Operation Épervier was subsumed into the regional Operation Barkhane in 2014, grown from 2013's Operation Serval in Mali. Barkhane aims to roll-back Islamist insurgencies, making way for stabilisation and political settlement. The character of French missions in Africa has, arguably, reinforced the very insecurity it professes to fight. Thus, I will address the questions: How has Opération Épervier influenced the conduct and success of French stabilisation in the Sahel? How can military masculinities be used to understand the nature, limitations and successes of Operations Épervier and Barkhane?

Patriarchy, heterosexism, masculinity, and violence outline a system of power relations inherent in military operations. Military masculinities form at intersections between ideals of 'soldiering' and 'manliness,' reinforcing mutually constitutive relationships. Traversing temporal, spatial, and cultural zones, 'embodied militarisms' and 'models of masculinity' embrace how masculinities are lived, situated, intersect, adapt, and multiply to respond to socio-political expectations and domestic/international dynamics.

Military masculinities have, thus, evolved to the aims of counterinsurgency, counterterror, stabilisation, peacekeeping and peacebuilding. Yet, the 'reluctant' French peacekeeper, the warrior-agent of 'humanitarian violence' has resisted evolution. Despite boasting tactical success, there is scant strategic impetus for long-term peace in the Sahel. Since 2014, French military efforts have increased. Alongside their 28-year stint in Chad, this regionalisation constitutes a wider French project of militarised post-colonial influence. Therefore, an interdisciplinary study of Françafrique aims to deconstruct how policies and practices in the Sahel have been shaped by and further beget military masculinities, impacting regional stabilisation. Locating French intervention at intersections of gender, militarisms, and post-colonial practices reassesses the former imperial ruler's ties to Africa. Given France's global military standing, its aggressive presence in Chad, and the clientelism of Françafrique, ignoring the influence of masculinities may be counterproductive to regional peace.

Overseas fieldwork will be essential. I aim to interview French and African personnel from the policy, operational and tactical level of France-Sahel relations. Deployed in Operation Barkhane, these personnel will be found in either Paris or Barkhane's Headquarters in N'Djamena, Chad.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2096282 Studentship ES/P000630/1 01/10/2018 30/09/2022 Emily Clifford